Autism Diet Dos and Don’ts
Our latest 'Thrive' column
Autistic individuals often have difficulties with sensory processing issues, sometimes called Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD. This could include challenges with sounds, smells, and textures. Other senses, such as balance and taste, can also be impacted, and this is particularly evident when comes to food. So a child on the spectrum might struggle not just when food doesn’t taste good but when it doesn’t smell or look right.
My son Jacob was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at age 3, and since that point, we have been on a journey with all facets of his well-being. One of the first things I jumped into was diet and nutrition. In my career, I had previous knowledge and experience of how food can impact behavior, both negative and positive. I knew this wouldn’t be a smooth transition; children tend to be picky eaters, so incorporating a healthy, nutritious, and tasty diet would be a challenge. But I can honestly say that today, Jacob is a healthy eater. We went through the phase of only wanting French fries, sure, but now both he and his sister Abby will eat anything—or least try it first. Here are some ways to navigate diet and nutrition in autistic children:
Start with a slow introduction to new and unfamiliar foods. Introduce one or two new foods per sitting. It can be overwhelming to try a whole plate full of things that may not be appealing. Kids often prefer crunchy foods, so try baked or even dried vegetables to get your child to use their taste buds without worrying about the texture.
Everyone can benefit from eating more nutritious and healthy meals, so it’s essential that each family member participate in these new eating habits. Children do best when we model the behavior that we are trying to reinforce. Some parents feed their children early and then have a healthy meal alone together after the children have gone to bed. But the person who prepares the meal acts as a server and doesn’t participate in mealtime. I know I was guilty of this; I would serve my kids but not sit down with them. When you do this, you’re not allowing your children to watch you make healthy choices. Use this time to bond as well as model healthy eating habits.
Practice Makes Perfect
Repetition is the key to success. It may not necessarily go well the first, second, or even tenth time when you introduce a new food, but you have to maintain consistency. I promise it will pay off. Today I can happily say that Jake’s favorite food is a fresh salad with lemon dressing.
We’ve come a long way from French fries.
BEA MOISE is a board-certified cognitive specialist, national speaker, and creator of A Child Like Mine, a company to educate parents of children with unique behavioral and learning needs. Bea and her husband have two children: Jacob who is awesomely autistic, and Abigail, who is simply marvelous. For more information visit www.BeatriceMoise.com.